Cycling in any kind of footwear is possible, but regular rides benefit from shoes designed specifically for cycling. Compared to normal running or jogging shoes, cycling shoes have stiffer soles which provide efficient energy transfer as you pedal. Besides, riding in flip flops or sandals can be risky as your shoes could slip from the pedals and result in a crash.
Being well-kitted out is an important part of any sport and we’re lucky to have multiple brands offering good options in this department.
Cycling shoes are always paired with a compatible pedal (called Clipless pedals) which hold your feet securely on the bicycle. Borrowed from the world of skiing, a small metal or plastic “cleat” is attached to the shoe and engaged with the cycling-specific pedal. This not only allows for efficient transfer of power but also improve on foot ergonomics and higher levels of control on the bicycle.
Being purpose-built for cycling, there is a huge variety of cycling shoes depending on the type and intensity of the cycling for which they are intended. Key features include rigidity for efficient transfer of power from the rider to the pedals, weight is important, a method of attaching the shoe firmly to the pedal is the third critical component. Most high-performance cycling shoes can be adjusted while in use, via a quick-adjusting system that has largely replaced laces for convenience and safety.
CYCLING SHOE ANATOMY
CLIPLESS VS FLATS
To clip or not to has been a never-ending debate amongst fellow cyclists.
Here are a few facts
- clipless is more efficient
- flats help develop skill
- increased rear-wheel control with clipless pedals
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide what suits you the best and what kind of riding you’re involved in. Riding flat has been around longer for obvious reasons and it’s the system that’s most commonly used even today. It’s the old school system and it’s highly recommended that you start this way. Skill development is a lot better and concrete this way. e.g Learning how to bunny hop would be a whole lot easier if you clipped in, but it isn’t the right way. You will be so used to pulling up with the clips that you won’t develop correct form and technique.
On the other hand, riding clipless has its benefits. Road cyclists will agree that a stiffer sole and a permanent connection to your pedals help with power transfer and efficiency. For the pro road racers, it’s a no brainer going for the clipless setup. It’s simply more efficient and the chances of going down are far fewer than on an MTB.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR WHILE BUYING CYCLING SHOES
- Understand the usage – Road, MTB, Commuter or Triathlon
- Clipless or Flats?
- A secure closure system
- Lightweight and Stiff shoes
- Compatible Pedals
MTB shoes have fairly stiff soles for efficient pedaling but have enough flex in them to absorb some of the bumps and shocks on a trial. The cleat mechanism in MTB style cleats is typically recessed into the sole to make it easier to walk.
MTB shoes are beefier than road shoes. They also include a flexible and rugged sole which is a completely different design feature. This is because as a mountain biker, you have to adjust your feet position very quickly over jagged terrain. These shoes tend to be made of tougher and of water-resistant materials such as synthetic leather or other water repellent coatings, to help keep out the trail muck.
MTB shoes are also designed to be comfortable for walking. As in mountain biking, you have to get off your bike fairly often, which you can’t do with stiff insoles used in road shoes.
Mountain bike shoes are also easier to clip and offer you a good grip and control over pedals. But compared to road shoes, they are easier to adjust to different positions on the pedals. MTB shoes let you adjust toe-in and toe-out angles which is basically the angle of your foot on the pedal Road shoes are designed to remain in one position for a long time.
These cleats are also a popular choice for casual road biking and touring purposes as well because it’s usually a 2-hole system that offers less resistance and is easier to clip in and out of.
As you move up the price range you also get features such as stiffer soles, lighter weight, waterproofing, and better ankle and toe protection. On some shoes, you are also provided with detachable toe spikes for traction in soft or loose ground conditions.
Clipless MTB cleats usually come with the 2-hole cleat system.
ROAD BIKE SHOES
Pretty much all road bike shoes are lightweight and have good ventilation. Their soles are comparatively a lot stiffer than compared to MTB shoes as efficient power transfer is key in Road Biking. Road bike cleats are also supposed to have a very snug fit to ensure that efficiency is not lost. The main reason why road clipless systems are so efficient is that you’re not only generating power in your pedal downstroke but also when you are pulling up. Every turn of the crank arm is generating power which is useable. whenIn road cycling, your body remains in the same position for a long time, but in mountain biking, you use the movement of your entire body to control the bike.
That is why road shoes are designed to provide comfort to your feet while also being able to hold them still and snug. They feature very stiff soles that do not bend and come with light and sleek design because the sole is stiff they aren’t ideal for walking as they offer very little traction. The large external cleat, in combination with the stiff sole, means you tend to waddle rather than walk.
Looking into higher-priced models you will notice the availability of features like carbon fiber soles, better ventilation, and a better fit system.
Most Road specific cleat systems these days use a 3-hole cleat which is compatible with specific pedals.
CITY RIDING SHOES
There are also options without cleats that are meant to be used with platform pedals. For the usual city commutes, a casual cycling shoe is ideal. Some city bike shoes offer clipless compatibility with recessed cleats and rubber soles for traction and ease of use for walking.
These shoes offer a blend of both a casual and a clipless cycling shoe. The sole allows for enough flex when you walk but is also stiff enough for efficient pedal strokes. These shoes also look a lot more conventional than clipless shoes. Meaning that they would blend right into your office/ school attire.
The variants without the clipless system are pretty much normal shoes built to take slightly more abuse. Depending on the model and brand the shoe may also have a slightly stiffer sole than normal.
The best shoes for triathletes when cycling should feature a low-top cut and lots of ventilation to prevent soaking wet feet. The shoe must also have a secure closure system that can also be undone and done again for
Most triathlon shoes use a single velcro strap to secure your foot. This makes it easy to adjust and undo the straps whilst you are on the bike; a key part of transition during a triathlon. Another helpful feature to look out for loops on the heel area to aid quick transitions between stages.
Triathlon-specific bike shoes boast of key features like; cleat compatibility, stiff outsole, smooth aero-looks, with some key differences to aid triathletes.
Tri-bike shoes feature oversized closure mechanisms, triathlon-specific shoes typically feature a velcro strap for super-fast transitions. The s speedy-on-off design gives you the edge over your counterparts. Tri shoes come with rubberized heels, to add traction and enable you to run or jog for slick transitions.
Triathlon cycling shoes provide you with vents or small holes in the sole to aid the dispersal of water from damp feet after the swim. This along with upper ventilation mesh keeps your feet as dry as possible while you’re on the bike.
WOMEN’S CYCLING SHOES
Women’s shoes are not too drastically different from men’s cycling shoes. The only real difference is that they are created around a female foot shape. A woman’s foot tends to be narrower at the ankle, and smaller overall – resulting in the need for a women-specific shoe since a tight fit is essential. In a cycling shoe, fit at the ankle is crucial – you want to feel the heel cup hug the back of your foot so that it feels secure.
SIZING AND FIT
Even the most expensive, high-end cycling shoes will be of no help if they do not fit you correctly and sit snug after it has broken in. A well-fitting cycling shoe should be snug in the heel with even pressure on the instep. Your toe must not come in contact with the toecap when pedaling. If it does then you need the next bigger size.
You should have a little toe room on a well-fit cycling shoe and the shoe should hold your forefoot stable without restricting some amount of movement. The ball of your foot should sit at the widest portion of the shoe to allow for optimal cleat positioning within the shoe’s adjustment range. It should be noted that most cycling shoes do not expand with weather or usage.
Investing in a good insole is also worth it as most cycling shoes come with basic insoles. There are options available in the market with fiberglass or carbon fiber embedded in the sole that helps position your foot in the optimal power transferring position which increases efficiency further.
CLIPLESS PEDAL / CLEAT COMPATIBILITY
Most bike shoes are designed to work with clipless pedals and feature holes drilled in the soles for attaching cleats. Cleats snap into the pedals to create a secure connection. Be aware that cleats are supplied with pedals, not the shoes, and that your cleats must match the shoes for compatibility.
The 2-hole system is commonly known as the SPD system (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics). The 2-hole system can be used for all types of riding, including road cycling, mountain biking, touring and commuting. When paired with some shoes, the recessed cleat design allows easier walking and less noise than other systems.
The 3-hole system. The 3-hole system (SPD- SL) is most often used for road cycling because it offers the most stability and energy transfer while riding. The large cleat is able to spread the force being applied to the pedal over a wide area.
Manufacturers use various systems to secure the shoes to your feet: Velcro straps, ratcheting buckles and wire laces that are dial tensioned, such as those from Boa.
From personal experience, it is better to opt for either a ratcheting buckle mechanism or a tensioned system like Boa. Boa is commonly used as it has the ability to provide you with the most minute adjustment setting variations. Velcro straps usually appear on lower-end models as the Velcro itself has a tendency to wear off fast over repeated usage.
MAINTENANCE AND CARE
The Cleat system is a mechanical component. Like all other mechanical components, it needs to be maintained and cleaned as there is a lot of wear and tear involved, services the cleats whenever it is dirty or not functioning optimally.
Replace cleats if they are worn to the point that disengaging from the pedals happens unexpectedly. They must also be replaced if they break or crack since damaged cleats will not function properly or may even cause an accident. Avid riders may need to change cleats as often as once per year. Casual riders can have cleats last up to 5 years.
When it comes to normal platform pedal biking shoes there isn’t much to talk about. They can take a little more abuse than your average sports shoes and maybe a little stiffer. It’s the ideal choice for an urban commuter.
There’s no better feeling than having sparkling clean bicycle shoes when you’re out riding, but it’s very hard to keep them clean all the time. Or is it? There are a few simple hacks you can use to keep them clean and fresh.
You can use a dry toothbrush to scrub off any hard settled dirt from the surface. If dirt still remains after doing this then you can soak the toothbrush in hot water and further agitate the grime and get rid of it.
Baby wipes do an exceptional job of taking care of the fine dirt on your shoes and also cleans any tough stains that may have settled on your shoes.
After all the washing your shoes need to be dried well. You can use any cloth to wick moisture off the surface of the shoe. For the inside be sure to insert some scrunched up newspaper to aid the drying process and after that places your shoes in the sun. avoid placing them in front of heaters that may damage the surface.
Overall it can be said that all road cyclists will eventually make the transition to clipless pedals, as they provide a professional level of performance and efficiency. As for Mountain bikers, the choices are really up to preferences and both setups have their own advantages.
If you are a casual cyclist you’ll probably stick to platform pedals and normal sports shoes but that’s up to you. Cycling shoes are not a necessity but can definitely take your cycling to the next level if you’re serious about it. That’s when you’ll make the most out of them.
When you decide to invest in a pair, keep in mind all of the points discussed above. Make sure you invest in a high-quality pair that has a good, strong yet lightweight sole. Ventilation, fit and comfort are other very important aspects that you must not overlook. Look at a pair with a reliable and quick closure system as well. Ensure you read the above points to make sure the shoe you pick up, best suits your needs in whatever discipline you ride.
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT CYCLING
I’m an avid mountain biker and I like riding fast and flowy singletrack. As I keep riding, I continuously work on honing my riding skills. I like to ride whenever possible, especially with friends. I also like to influence folk into getting to ride more often.
Working on bicycles has also been a keen interest of mine for quite some time.
DISCIPLINE: Mountain biking and Road biking
CURRENT BIKE: RockRider 5.3
DREAM BIKE: Santa Cruz Nomad